Sean Taylor Songs [Release date 12.04.19]
Sean Taylor’s ‘The Path Into Blue’ is a conceptually titled album for our times. He’s political, social and emotional, and while the opening track ‘This Is England’ focuses on a fractured British identity and society, his observations often have a universal meaning. He also adds some belated introspection to give the album a wider sphere of reference than it might otherwise have.
His salient themes are to be found in the album’s art work, but he’s smart enough not to over preach, but rather presents his evidence persuasively and in such a way he is still able to draw the uncommitted listener in. And despite opening with a dystopian picture of our times, ‘The Path Into Blue’ isn’t a depressing album.
For one thing it flows from beginning to end, bolstered by a variety of musical arrangements, all glued together by Mark Hollman’s intuitive production which embellishes Taylor voice with musical subtleties that always keeps his narratives interesting and dynamic.
Recorded in Austin Texas, ‘The Path Into Blue’ enjoys a rich, wide ranging musical landscape filled by Taylor’s John Martyn influenced sludgy vocals, interwoven instruments – ranging from pedal steel to horns – and is occasionally topped by a stunning backing singer Stephanie Daulong with a great range.
He opens with the cleverly spun lyrics of the post-Brexit Britain, ‘This Is England’. He conveys his hard hitting lyrics with a passionate rap delivered in an annoying south London style street talk, which might alienate some of his potential listeners.
No matter, there’s no denying the veracity of his lyrics, most obviously on ‘Grenfell’ a song that speaks volumes about uncaring modern society, as he sharply contrasts the loss of life with the gentrification of London and the people it leaves behind.
He mixes alliteration and subtle harmonies on poignant lines such as: “Is the money you make worth the lives you take, make no mistake, the only truth you own is fake,” before a defining buzz guitar solo.
He’s like an old fashioned troubadour soaking up experiences that help shape his view of the things, the moral indignation of which gives his songs their potency.
His role is that of the artist as a commentator who is not without blemish himself, as evidenced by tales of drinks, drugs and depression on ‘Tobacco And Whisky’ and the finger clicking ‘The Other Side Of Hurt’, with lines such as: “The bird have lost their wings to fly, there on the ground with empty skies,” and “I always end up in the dirt, the other side of hurt.”
Then there’s the mellifluous JJ Cale influenced ‘Number 49’ – all whispered vocals and a hypnotic rhythm track - which good as it is, feels emotionally lightweight compared to what’s gone before.
He sets out his trademark close-to-the-mic whispered phrasing on ‘Lampedusa’, wrapping himself round the jangling guitars and rich sonic quality of a song about the plight of refugees.
‘The Last Man Standing (Merry Christmas)’ is more of a familiar observation about consumerism at Christmas, as a sonorous horn arrangement and sludgy tempo levers us into related subjects of loneliness and alienation.
His heartfelt commitment means he steers clear of any cliché and sloganeering.
‘Little Donny’ for example, might easily have become lazy condemnation of Donald Trump’s antics, but instead he lays bare the man’s deeds over a sultry bluesy duet with Stephanie Daulong.
Taylor is known for taking his ideas from his song titles, and to that end the outstanding ‘A Cold Wind Blows’ offers him plenty of potential on a song about homeless with a defining chorus over an aching pedal steel line, intricate acoustic guitar and delicate brush strokes: “Ride along the strand sleeping bags by newspaper stands. It might be a rich man’s road, but if you’re homeless that cold wind blows.”
When he turns his gaze to popular culture on the muscular stomp ‘Take It Down To The Mainstream’ he adds his own ironic take on things:” Who needs the truth when lies are good as gold.” And; “No doubt the world is tapped, you can bet there is an on line app.”
Everything flows into the closing Americana title track with its gently strummed intro, Nils Lofgren style vocal and poetic bent. It’s the perfect bookend to a rootsy album, though I feel the last 5 songs sound like a different EP’s worth of songs with a slight different musical direction fused on to an extant concept album.
‘The Path Into Blue’ is a deeply felt, emotionally wrought weighty album that places Sean Taylor at the centre of contemporary singer songwriter scene.
His song writing craft is shot through with a refreshing honesty, passion, poignancy and a real musical ability. He’s an observational writer closer to Dylan than say the protest songs of Pete Seeger, but he’s cut from the same cloth, as on this album he fuses his story telling ability with a cold shot of stark contemporary reality. ****
Review by Pete Feenstra
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